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Educator was thief, abuser, D.A. says

The Rev. Charles Newman, former leader of Archbishop Ryan High, is charged with stealing $900,000.

A Franciscan friar who taught at Archbishop Ryan High School molested at least three students a decade ago and later, as school president from 2002 to 2003, stole $900,000 from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and his religious order to enrich himself and provide drugs, alcohol and cash for at least one victim, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said yesterday.

In presenting a grand jury's multi-count theft-and-forgery indictment against the Rev. Charles Newman, 57, Abraham said at least $53,000 in checks and cash went to the late Arthur Baselice, who in the 1990s attended Archbishop Ryan, Philadelphia's largest Roman Catholic high school.

Abraham said that many of the payments were made openly, in front of bookkeepers and other staff who became concerned and complained to administrators about the apparent impropriety.

Before his death of a drug overdose in 2006, which Abraham characterized as "suicide," Baselice filed an unsuccessful civil suit against the archdiocese, saying Newman "routinely performed oral sex" on him while plying him with drugs and alcohol.

Baselice's lawyer, Jay N. Abramowitch, said in court filings that the abuse caused his client's lifelong problems with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

It was not immediately clear whether Newman had retained a lawyer. A message left at the Wisconsin friary where prosectors said he now lives was not immediately returned.

The archdiocese said yesterday in a statement: "The fraudulent use of funds was a betrayal. The greater tragedy was the sexual abuse of a minor which was discovered by the archdiocese during the financial audits."

Officials said Baselice made the sexual-assault allegations after the deadline for filing sex-abuse charges had passed.

Newman, a teacher and principal at the Northeast Philadelphia school for 22 years, became president of the school in July 2002 and was fired in November 2003 after a forensic audit revealed some of the alleged thefts.

At that time, said Abraham, Newman admitted he had made mistakes and was ordered by the church to undergo counseling and treatment for "sexual predatory conduct."

Pressuring students for sex and using drugs and alcohol to seduce them, Newman led them "from the office, then to the rectory, then to his bedroom," Abraham said.

Among the alleged financial improprieties, she said, were accusations that he exchanged the school's "two very expensive grand pianos" for inferior replacements and pocketed the cash difference.

A subsequent investigation by the district attorney revealed the thefts from the friary.

Abraham said she was convinced that Newman was "hopelessly lost in his relationship and guilt" and that Baselice was not blackmailing him.

"I don't believe it was extortion. If you're going to extort someone, you don't do it in front of a bookkeeper," she said.

Cases involving clergy sexual abuse are particularly thorny, Abraham said.

"Sexual involvement with a person of high regard is doubly difficult," Abraham said, "because you are essentially accusing someone who represents God's word on Earth."

In addition to the school's financial accounts, Newman had control over Franciscan friary accounts, Abraham said. The Franciscans, a teaching order, are contracted by the archdiocese to provide staff at Archbishop Ryan.

The indictment charges Newman with six counts of felony theft and one count of felony forgery. The forgery charge stems from his alleged use of another friar's signature stamp to approve dubious transactions.

Newman currently lives in a retirement home for Franciscans in Pulaski, Wis., Abraham said. She called on him to immediately turn himself in.

"That doesn't mean after Christmas," she said. "It means as soon as he can get on a plane."

If he fails to return voluntarily, she said, she will seek his extradition.